The cover-up is always worse than the crime.
Now, there’s a new guy in a similar situation – Arkansas Razorback football coach Bobby Petrino. Have men not learned anything from their scandal-ridden predecessors?
Petrino was involved in a motorcycle crash last Sunday. He broke four ribs and cracked a neck vertebra in the accident. On Tuesday, a banged-up and bruised Petrino, 51, gave a news conference at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He failed to mention that he had a passenger on the motorcycle – Jessica Dorrell, a 25-year-old former Razorbacks volleyball player.
Last week, Petrino, who is married with four children, hired Dorrell, who was engaged to another Razorback coach, as a student-athlete development coordinator. Previously, she had worked at the private Razorback Foundation as a fund-raiser. The university reportedly praised her work there as an advancement for women because she was the first female to be given such a responsibility at the Foundation.
By Thursday night, Petrino, who earns about $3.5 million a year, was put on paid administrative leave by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. He learned about Dorrell’s presence from the state police accident report. In turn, Petrino apologized like so many of scandal-prone men for a “previous inappropriate relationship.” It’s unclear if that relationship was with Dorrell or someone else.
Petrino is beloved in Arkansas – although he arrived in the state in 2008 with a lot of baggage from previous coaching stints. So perhaps, no one should be very surprised.
Look up his name in the Urban Dictionary. The definition states: “A shaft of the most magnanimous proportions. Usually happens after signing a huge contract.” The example: “After Bobby Petrino, a man of zero integrity, who in two years alone managed to sign 20 years worth of contracts and is yet to be loyal to one.”
At the University of Louisville, Petrino allegedly lied about and covered up interviews that he did for other head coaching positions. He signed a 10-year contract with the college, but five months later, he left for the NFL. He coached the Atlanta Falcons for just 13 games before he left mid-season for the Razorbacks. He didn’t bother to tell his players.
Petrino replaced Houston Nutt, who left after a Razorback fan uncovered Nutt's phone records. It was alleged that Nutt had an affair with a television news reporter. But Nutt wasn't successful. Petrino is.
He became a football god in 2011 when he coached the Razorbacks to a 11-2 winning season and took the team to the 2012 Cotton Bowl. The team won that game against Kansas State 29-16. In four seasons, he has a 34-17 record.
Razorback fans who live in the place called “Razorback Nation” gave Petrino the nickname “BMFP.” (You can imagine what the MF stands for.) They wear T-shirts with this moniker blazoned across the fronts. They don’t want to see him go. They are adamant about this. One fan tweeted: “SEC championships heal all wounds.” Another one said, “In Arkansas, for better or worse, the dead girl/live boy rule still applies. She lived.”
But Petrino lied to his boss. Lying under oath got Bill Clinton impeached. Lying and covering up forced Richard Nixon to resign from the presidency. Petrino should have learned something from the Clinton-Lewinsky debacle. He should have told the truth.
As crisis manager Judy Smith told my colleague Annie Groer in an interview, “Tell the truth because it doesn’t go away. The facts always come out.”
What kind of example is Petrino setting for the young men he leads on the football field? Not a very good one. When one of them is busted for drugs, alcohol or God forbid, sexual assault, will they just assume it’s fine to lie? Sure they will. After all, Coach did it.
I’m ready for the man involved in a sex scandal to just own it from the beginning. Wouldn’t it be brave – and even refreshing – for a powerful man to just say, “Yep, you caught me. I like sex. I like women. I shouldn’t have done it, but I did.”
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker